The vortex swallows him, dragging him impossibly deep into waters that should not be this warm. A water dragon cannot drown, he reminds himself, though the thought does little to still his heart’s hammering as he tumbles and rises, lifted by a giant wave that rolls him onto a strange shore leaving him to gasp air into his choked lungs.
He squeezes wet blue sand between his fingers, pushing himself up on his elbows. The grass, the rocks, even the water here is wrong, warm and blue, unlike the cold green seas that surround his island eyrie. Strangest of all is the unnerving quiet. Gentle waves lap against the shore, but there is no song here, no voice whispering in the back of his mind.
“I have waited long for you, Aymeri of the water dragons.”
Aymeri turns toward the source of the familiar voice, sounding strange spoken clearly and out loud, rather than the subtle murmur that sung in the quiet spaces of his mind. She rises before him like the sun from the far edge of the ocean, frighteningly strange and comfortingly familiar at once, like he had always known her face but had somehow forgotten it.
She crouches on the shore before him, her coral colored eyes fixed on him, expectant.
“Are you dragonkind?” he wonders, her scaled skin resembling a dragon’s during the rite of marking, when they bring themselves to the cusp of transformation and hold themselves between two states, marking the skin they were born in with the colors of their dragon scales. But no dragon could withstand that agony while smiling as placidly as this creature does now, and Aymeri sees that she is not kin. “Are you…fae?” he asks, throat tightening around the word, fearing the bad luck that comes from even mentioning their kind.
Her smile sours. “I have sung to you since the day of your birth, Aymeri of the water dragons. Why do you give me this name of fear?”
“I know your voice like I know the ocean’s tides,” Aymeri answers, “But I do not know what you are, or what to call you.”
“Names are powerful things. Before I had a name, I was the boiling ocean, churning and frothing, a raging geyser of unchecked fury. Then Auberon called to me, and gave me my name, Icovellauna of the Waters. Naming me, he changed me, giving me this form. And as I became Icovellauna, the seas were cooled. I gave the world my song, and it became a gentler place, a place for life, for growing things. That is the power of a name, the power to become, to shape, to mold. The dragonkind were born of the same magic, in the time when the world was changed. We are alike, but you call me fae, a word you speak with dread, a word you whisper to frighten your younglings. I do not want this name. I do not want what such a name might make of me.”
“Dragonkind are not born of magic,” he protests. Little of her story made any sense at all, but that one claim stood out.
“How were the dragons born?”
“The Mothers were born of the steam that rose when the lava of a great volcano flowed into the sea.”
“I remember,” Icovellauna nods, “The air had a different taste when your Mothers soared the skies. I was not Icovellauna then, and the dragonkind were also not yet born, for you, like I, are no longer what you once were. The magic that changed me, changed the world. And that is how the dragonkind were born.”
Not even the Daughters knew what had happened to their Mothers. They had each hatched on their eyries in a clutch with two brothers, all fully grown adults, with nothing left of their origin but an ancestral memory of the lava, the ocean, the steam rising into the air. The Daughters had hatched from the great eggs laid by the Mothers, but bore their own children the way the beasts of the land did. These were facts dragonkind had never questioned, simply accepting their existence as they lived it. Perhaps this creature had the right of it, that fae magic had been at the root of the change that had made the Daughters and their progeny as they are now.
“You are not dragonkind,” he says, asserting the one thing he is sure of, no matter the likeness she claims between them, “If you are not fae, what are you?”
“I am Icovellauna,” she answers, tilting her head, “I am the ocean, the rivers, the streams and the springs. I am steaming geysers and placid lakes, babbling brooks and raging seas. I am the ebb and the flow. You hear my song, and you claim to know my voice like the tides of the ocean. If you truly know either, then you know what I am, Aymeri of the water dragons, for I sing in you.” She leans closer, her stare piercing, demanding, “I am Icovellauna. Say my name.”
“Icovellauna,” he says slowly, her song vibrating in his throat, humming on his lips, rolling on his tongue, “Icovellauna,” he repeats, quicker this time, taking ownership of the sound. “Icovellauna,” he repeats a third time, softer, warmer, more familiar. She had always been with him, but he did not know her. He had fumbled in the darkness without her, believing he could see. Her name on his lips was the dawning sun, illuminating all that had been hidden from him.
The corners of her lips quiver, and her coral eyes light with a golden shine. “Now you see,” she says.
Aymeri nods, speechless as his mind scrambles for words to frame his new vision, for an understanding of what his heart knows but cannot describe. The brightness of it is more than he can bear; like the sun, it burns the eye that stares too boldly, and he retreats from the glare, back to the shadows. “What is this place?” he asks, “How do get back to my home from here?”
“This is the Undersea, on the dawning edge of the Dusk. This is the place where the waters meet. The water will carry you to wherever you wish to be.”